When Isabel Archer, a young American woman with looks, wit, and imagination, arrives in Europe, she sees the world as ‘a place of brightness, of free expression, of irresistible action’. She turns aside from suitors who offer her their wealth and devotion to follow her own path. But that way leads to disillusionment and a future as constricted as ‘a dark narrow alley with a dead wall at the end’. In a conclusion that is one of the most moving in modern fiction, Isabel makes her final choice. The Portrait of a Lady is the masterpiece of James’s middle period, and Isabel is perhaps his most engaging central character.